From the high-profile broadsheet press to the lurid tabloids, journalists around the globe have held no bars in voicing their opinions about Snowden and his actions. While some referred to Snowden as a hero, others deemed him a traitor. Either way, Snowden’s actions generated a cyclone of debate.
Snowden is a former technical assistant for the CIA and a current employee of Booz Allen Hamilton (a contractor for the NSA). He disclosed details of top secret NSA programs, including the PRISM surveillance program. He gave this information to the Guardian and the Washington Post.
On June 6, 2013, both newspapers ran stories about the secret electronic surveillance program, which allegedly gives the NSA access to peoples’ emails, web searches and Internet traffic.
The Whistleblower’s Identity Revealed
Under Snowden’s request, the Guardian revealed the whistleblower’s identity, stating to the British broadsheet:
“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.” (1)
Despite insisting that his identity be revealed, Snowden repeatedly talked of wanting to avoid the media spotlight.
“I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing,” Snowden told the Guardian. (1)
Nevertheless, the former CIA employee was ushered to the global media limelight almost overnight as condemnations came raining down on him.
Following Snowden’s disclosure to the media, Fox News quickly interviewed Dick Cheney, who strongly defended the exposed U.S. surveillance programs which Cheney had helped to create in the aftermath of 9/11.
The former vice president told Fox News Sunday that Edward Snowden was a “traitor” and in exposing the U.S. government’s ways of gathering information from emails and phone calls had caused “enormous damage” to the United States’ anti-terror programs. (2)
It wasn’t only Cheney and Fox News who were quick to depict Edward Snowden is a negative light.
Also deeming Snowden as some sort of conspirator, Chicago Now commentator, Dennis Byrne said:
“NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is definitely a traitor. Whether he is a patriot has yet to be seen. Also yet to be seen is whether the leaking of NSA secrets was a moral act. It is clear that he should be prosecuted for his self-confessed traitorous acts.” (3)
In typical sensationalist fashion, the tabloid media were quick to bring attention to Edward Snowden’s sex life. A report in the Daily Mail, focused on how Snowden wrote frequent posts on the technology site Ars Technica as far back as 2006, boasting of sex marathons and enjoying “post-coital Krispy Kremes”. (4)
Is Snowden a Traitor?
Edward Snowden has been portrayed by the media as either some sort of Rockafeller playboy, or as a traitor. Did his actions cause harm to the United States?
On June 15, just over a week after the expose was first released, Bloomberg reported how the Snowden leak was “bad news” for US businesses. Bloomberg quoted Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA, who said in an interview with CNN that Snowden’s actions are “bound to be bad news”, stating:
“A country or a source that might be thinking of cooperating with the United States should have almost no confidence in our discretion or in our ability to keep a secret.” (5)
As the media whirlwind of Snowden’s actions, consequences and personal life continue to dominate the news cycle, he hides in Hong Kong, with classified materials he allegedly stole from the NSA.
Snowden informed the world that there simply isn’t any privacy anymore and that a program named PRISM enabled the NSA and the FBI to tap directly into the central servers of nine leading Internet companies. PRISM has the ability to extract photos, emails, documents, audio and video information.
It is not that difficult to understand why many view Edward Snowden as a hero. However, a significant bulk believe the whistleblower has committed a crime, and the prolific negativity circulating about Snowden and his actions has unquestionably been spurred on by the media.
What seems like an obvious effort by the media to discredit Snowden could be viewed as a deliberate attempt by the media to divert attention from the substance of the disclosures to the source of the disclosures.
By demonizing Edward Snowden and personalizing the political debate, has the media either wittingly or unwittingly averted the attention from those who are arguably the real demons in the NSA surveillance scandal?